The DAC Advice Thread

Discussion in 'Advice Threads' started by señorhifi, Oct 16, 2020.

  1. HeyWaj10

    HeyWaj10 Rando

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    Current DAC is the built-in ES9028 USB card of my Schiit Lyr 3. It does a great job, but my brain is seeking "more". I recently had the opportunity to demo a Chord Mojo 2 for a week, and that was about as eye-opening an experience as I could have. That experience showed me the potential of what a more capable DAC can offer both my Lyr 3 and my LCD-Xs. To say I was spoiled that week is an understatement.

    Given some home improvements under way, my budget for an upgraded DAC simply won't reach the level of say, a Bifrost 2 or Mojo 2. Around $300 really would be the max I'd be able to squeeze an agreement with out of the better half. Based on that budget, here are some key areas I'm seeking "more" in (from listening to the Mojo 2 vs. the ES9028 card), and key considerations in my hearing preferences(**):
    • Tighter, more impactful, more detailed bass (ES9028 muddles and softens bass by and large)
    • Generally more resolving mids, improved timbre if possible
    • More articulate and detailed treble (ES9028 treble is splashy and 1-dimensional)
    • Deeper black/background, if possible, allowing greater sound staging capability
    • **Bass impact and texture is more important to me than depth/slam
    • **Neutral but tonally accurate mids are preferred to overly warm or clinical
    • **I'm most sensitive to treble, digital glare, and unnatural tone/timbre. Even the Mojo 2 still sounded artificial to me.
    I realize I"m probably asking A LOT for a $300 DAC, so I'm in no way expecting to get Mojo 2 performance. However, I feel like I should be able to get some of these key improvements most of the way there, but keeping my expectations realistic.

    In the recent past, I've also listened to DACs like the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M (did not like the digital glare and tone in the treble) and the ifi Audio Neo iDSD (very much liked the sound of this DAC on the whole). Clearly, both of those DACs exceed my budget. Given that, I see the following as my best options:
    • Schiit Modius (admittedly nervous about the lower-performing unbalanced outputs and AKM velvet sound)
    • Geshelli Labs J2 (another ESS implementation, would that garner digital/glary treble?)
    • ifi Audio Zen Dac Signature V2 (if this is similar to the Neo, might be a great fit)
    • JDS Labs EL Dac II+ (auditioned the Element II in the past, did not like it, so unsure how much the internal DAC played into that experience)
    I'm not much interested in any of the Chi-Fi options, personally, based on all that I've read. Thanks for the input and consideration!
     
  2. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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  3. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    If you liked the Mojo2 a lot I would say the Geshelli is a step in the right direction. Don't go for EL Dac if you weren't sold on the Element...
     
  4. Abhishek Chowdhary

    Abhishek Chowdhary Friend

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    Modius is good via Bal only. SE out is passable. Avoid if your use case is SE. Original Geshelli Jnog (coax) was better than Modius SE and almost as good as the modius BAL (AES)
    I earlier thought all akm4493 implemetations should be good enough until I heard garbage from Fiio, Q5s. xDuoo X5 + is somewhat good but its the amp part that makes it lively enough and cuts through akm velvet. DAC out is kinda wet and heavy sounding and quite a bit less resolving vs Modius Bal/jnog.

    Older ESS implementations using to be brittle/glary but decent resolution. Newer implementations (esp cheap chifi ones) are horribly tuned. Perhaps to mitigate ess glare they tuned them intentionally warm and bassy. End result is just a wall of sound with no texture. Too much processing killed the resolution.
     
  5. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    What you are describing are classic multibit signature: more detailed bass, resolving mids, natural highs with little to no glare.

    If only the Modi Multibit 2 were out. I would be surprised if those are available by the end of the year. You could go for an older Modi MB or Bifrost MB, and those can even be further enhanced by op amp swap if you are into doing that kind of thing. Stock they can be slightly greyish, but still better than most AKM DAC's in that price range.

    You could also go full R2R like a Sokeris dac1321 (although that now is discontinued for the dac1221 that is not out yet). Or even go full vintage for a Theta or some other vintage DAC with a PCM or AD mutibit chip.

    The truth is that in the <$500 price point, there is not much but ESS and AKM. It is just too bad there are not many PCM1798 options out there. It is like 20 years old at this point, but it is still a great sounding DAC chip. I could go on, but Cambridge changed the DacMagic from PCM to CS awhile back and it was the dumbest things they could have ever done.
     
  6. HeyWaj10

    HeyWaj10 Rando

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    I liked the Mojo 2 in every way except for the treble range. While it was very nicely detailed and resolute, there was still a significant enough degree of digital artificiality that always drew my attention to it. It was almost distracting, as it is any time I hear that from the DACs I've spent time with along the way. So that's my only real "fear" in the Geshelli J2...will it have that similar inherent DS digital glare and unnatural presentation to things like cymbals?
     
  7. HeyWaj10

    HeyWaj10 Rando

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    Great idea to consider...not against buying used, though would prefer to have a warrantable product.
     
  8. HeyWaj10

    HeyWaj10 Rando

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    It is, and I genuinely have no intention or desire to go the balanced route any time soon. It's been tough reading so many corroborating impressions from so many Modius owners/users saying the same thing. Just feel like, even at only $200, I wouldn't even be using the DAC in its most optimal configuration with my Lyr 3.
     
  9. HeyWaj10

    HeyWaj10 Rando

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    That's what I've been figuring for quite a while now - my listening preferences have been leading me in that direction, to look at the MB/R2R options out there.

    Yep, just frustrating in the current state of things with the supply chain shortages. There are more options than ever in the DAC market, but very few in the budget range that will align with my particular listening preferences.
     
  10. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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  11. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    The mojo2 is out of reach, but there's a mojo1 for $220 on head-fi right now.

    That said, I think at your current budget you're not going to get any appreciable improvement. Rather than trying to squeeze an agreement out of the better half, go spend that money on activities that will result in better squeezing with the better half. I'd wager that's a more enjoyable return on investment.
     
  12. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    Just a quick tip (that I think you've figured out at this point!) but it helps keep things neater and conciser-er if you respond to multiple posts using the multi-quote feature (down in the bottom right of any post; just click it for any post you want to reply to with a quote; it's kinda like a clipboard that unloads into a post when you hit the reply button).

    And for my money, I'd heartily recommend trying to get ears on a used Bifrost2, based on the descriptions of your preferences and your experience with the Mojo. But I'm not trying to be that asshole that just tells people to spend more money! BF2 is some serious value for money, IME, comparing directly to my Yggdrasil A2. I'd offer my BF2 from my office setup for a personal loaner since you're right down in NC, but I'm going through some health stuff that's keeping me out of the office temporarily.

    As is the custom around here, "good things come to those who wait" - so perhaps another couple months of waiting could get you in line budget-wise with a used BF2?
     
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  13. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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    ??? Did I miss an announcement?
     
  14. Metro

    Metro Friend

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    On the Schiit website: Modi Multibit: The Most Affordable True Multibit™ DAC (orders suspended until back in stock, estimated December 2022)
     
  15. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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    He said Modi multibit 2.

    @Metro
     
  16. Scott Kramer

    Scott Kramer Friend

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    Last edited: May 24, 2022
  17. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    If you're lucky, you could find a Massdrop Airist R2R DAC, which was received very positively here, and might be the best R2R DAC for the money based on everything I've read, especially if you get a Pi2AES and feed it coaxial. I loved mine, it has great tone. I've kept it as a backup DAC.

    Not easy to find, but they they sell for under $300 I think when they come up for sale.
     
  18. HeyWaj10

    HeyWaj10 Rando

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    Thanks all for the advice and recommendations. Looks like I may try out (just for the hell of it) an ifi Zen Dac Signature V2, given they are on Amazon with easy returns. If that doesn't give me what I'm looking for, I may just wait it out for a while. Stretching the budget isn't of interest at this stage, so if waiting longer is required, so be it!
     
  19. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    Yes, I forget sometimes that iFi is one of the ones sill using PCM DAC chips. I am not always the biggest fan of their implementations, but the iFi Zen is supposed to be slight departure from their sharper sound. It certainly is a bold choice in case design.
     
  20. señorhifi

    señorhifi Friend

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    At that price I would pick the iFi Zen DAC Signature. Make sure to use the BAL out (you need a weird pentacon to XLR cable). It improves significantly the depth presentation of the DAC.

    Another option is the Modi Multibit V2, but I find the Zen DAC Signature a better pick as I never liked the rolled off treble presentation of the Modi Multibit V2. The Modi Multibit V2 is about the same in terms of technicalities, but sounds more natural (despite the treble roll off). It also has the best depth. Great "3D" presentation indeed.

    Modius sounds way more resolving than both of these DACs. It's also very artificial in comparison, especially in the treble, were it simply fatigues me after a while. It also lacks the depth the iFi (over the BAL out especially) and Modi Multibit can pull off. It does have the widest stage though, but poor depth (i.e.: awesome left to right staging, poor back to front staging).

    I haven't tried the rest of the stuff you mentioned. I am overall the happiest with the iFi Zen DAC Signature. It's the best compromise. Great all around device, a stop gap before you splurge money on something more expensive (Bifrost 2, or Soekris stuff maybe).
     

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